Bresaola is a very lean type of air-dried and salted beef that originated in Valtellina, in the Lombardy region of the Italian Alps. Bresaola has an IGP trademark (protected geographical indication). This means that only certified master butchers in the Lombardy region are authorised to produce this meat.
The word bresaola comes from the Lombard term bresada, which means braised. Unlike many other Italian cured meat varieties, bresaola is made from beef instead of pork. It is a very lean type of cured meat, thanks to being made from a single muscle and having its outer fat removed before the curing process. A traditional bresaola is made using a specific cut of beef, however you will also find non-traditional varieties made from horse, venison, and pork.
A very specific cut of beef is used to make bresaola. This is the top (inside) round, a very lean and tender cut of meat that has a sweet and musty scent. Because bresaola is so lean, it is often compared with prosciutto. However the two have very different flavour profiles. Prosciutto is recognised for having a rich, fatty flavour, while bresaola is more sweet and aromatic from the spices used in the curing process. If you had to compare bresaola to another type of cured meat, pastrami would come close.
How do you make bresaola?
Bresaola’s unique flavour is a result of its trimming process. First, the fat is removed from the meat. The meat is then seasoned with a dry rub of salt and spices. Juniper berries, cinnamon, caraway seeds, coriander, clove, garlic, and nutmeg are the most typical spices used for the dry rub. After this stage, the meat is left to cure for several days, followed by a drying period of anywhere from 1 -3 months. The weight of the bresaola determines the length of the drying period.
The key to a good bresaola is ageing the meat for two or three months. After this point, it should harden and turn a dark red – almost purple – colour. Up to 40% of the meat’s weight will be lost during the ageing phase.
What are the origins of bresaola?
Bresaola comes from the northern regions of Lombardy in Italy. Just like many other places in Italy, Lombardy was known for having fertile fields that provided nourishment throughout the warmer months and created a supportive environment for grazing animals and farming. However during the winter, warm-weather crops and meat had to be preserved in some way. This is why dry-curing is such a popular practice across Italy. The process allowed families to lengthen the shelf life of proteins which they need to eat in order to survive. In ancient times, a family’s cellar would be used to preserve and dry-cure the meats that they would eat throughout the winter. This is how meats such as bresaola came into existence.
How do you serve bresaola?
Bresaola is cut into paper-thin slices, making it ideal for carpaccio as part of an antipasti. First arrange overlapped slices on the plate, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon, and sprinkle arugula over the top. Finish off with sprinkles of Parmigiano-Reggiano and salt and pepper. For something extra special, add thinly sliced truffles or marinated mushrooms. It tastes best with “heavy” red wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and on special occasions with the noblest of the Tuscan wines of Brunello di Montalcino.
Is bresaola the same as carpaccio?
Not really. Carpaccio is a simple Italian recipe made from thin slices of meat or fish that are served with accoutrements of herbs, oils, vinaigrettes, and vegetables. While bresaola is delicious in carpaccio, the two are not the same. Firstly, carpaccio is made from raw meats while bresaola is made from cured meat. Secondly, carpaccio can be made with any type of protein, from beef to fish.
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